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Mount Rainier’s July 29 breakdown was the start of a tough summer for the nation’s largest ferry system, which hauls about 23 million passengers — commuters, locals and tourists alike — among the islands, peninsulas and mainland cities of western Washington state. Officials are wondering whether the series of problems is just coincidence, or a more troubling sign of how deeply the state has cut into a transportation system that is a major economic driver and lifeline for many communities.

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